You shall not pass

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Tiffany Frandsen | News Editor |@tiffany_mf
Illustration by Ashley Fairbourne


Last year, the top most failed class for fall semester at Utah Valley University was CS 1400: Fundamentals of Programming. Out of the 247 students that enrolled – not including the 13 who withdrew during the drop period – 85 students, comprising 34 percent, failed the class.

“They work hard, but there’s a certain type of thinking you need going on in your brain to do programming,” said Computer Science Professor Roger K. Debry. “They can be very intelligent, they can pass other classes with flying colors, but they don’t have that spark of creativity. Programming is a very creative process.”

The Fundamentals of Programming classes were pretty well polarized, though – a quarter of the students that took the course Fall 2013 semester earned A’s. The trend continued in the spring semester, with roughly 27.5 percent of the students failing the class. Debry says that’s caused by a myriad of reasons.

“One [reason] is because it’s a hard class, and it’s not easy to jump in to programming without previous experience,” said Debry. “They come in without math, and without that ground.”

A lot of the students that fail do so because they stop doing the work altogether. Even if it’s past the withdraw date, they will consider the class failed, and not sink anymore time into the class.
Debry puts a lot of study material online – videos, tutorials, step-by-step instruction and exercises, and most students that work hard do fine.

Another factor in the high fail rate is that some students don’t have “the knack” for it, said Debry.

The rest of the top five most failed classes were DGM 2120: Web Essentials and ZOOL 2320/2325: Human Anatomy with the accompanying lab all with a 26 percent fail rate. Those were closely followed by CHEM 2310: Organic Chemistry coming in at a 25.6 percent fail rate, and ZOOL 1090: Intro to Human Anatomy at 23 percent.

Intro to Theatre (THEA 1013), Basic Reading and Writing (ENG 0890) and Group Private Pilot (AVSC 1100) were all runners up, with between 22 and 23 percent of students failing. These numbers were assembled by the Institutional Research and Information staff, and do not include the students that dropped the class and received “UW.”

Michael Shivley, a Human Anatomy professor at UVU, said many students that fail the class hadn’t needed to work very hard in high school to do well, and were surprised by the workload.

“They got real good grades in high school for doing almost nothing, and they’re still used to doing almost nothing and getting a good grade, which still works in some classes. It doesn’t work for many of our science classes,” said Shively.

Students that enrolled in Human Anatomy spring 2014 semester failed at a higher rate of 32 percent. One Friday morning lab section at 50 percent, with no student getting above a B.

“Typically, fall students do better than spring students,” said Shively. The reason for the discrepancy isn’t known, he said, but it has been noticed year to year.

According to the IRI data, the fall semester classes have had a slightly higher fail rate than the following spring fail rate, which could be attributed to students retaking the class. Most of the students that failed the class hadn’t taken all of the quizzes and tests.

“They’ve already decided they’re going to fail. They quit coming and take it again later,” said Shively.

Debry also saw students retake the programming class. Some students would take the class three or four times over, but with the exact same result.

“I think the preparation they need is just the basic study skills you need to be successful in any college class. They need to be able to read,” said Debry.

Shively theorized that phones served as distractions in class.

“Leave your electronic device in your pocket. Take notes, listen, interact and engage,” said Shively.

On a more positive note, almost none of the students that took elementary education classes above 2200 failed. A handful of sections had 2-4 percent fail rates, but 16 elementary education classes had 100 percent pass rates in all sections.